Dignity & respect

The Society of Authors is committed to promoting professional behaviour throughout all its activities, and to tackling and preventing bullying, harassment and racism in all their forms.

Bullying, harassment and racism have no place on our premises, in our communications, or in any other environment in which we operate. Along with our partners in publishing, broadcasting and other industries, we are committed to eradicating such behaviour.

We ask all employees; members; associates; committee members; volunteers; prize and grant judges, assessors and participants; contractors; suppliers; trainees; visitors; and all our partners, professional or otherwise, to make the same commitment to the principles outlined here.

While we will always intervene with publishers on freedom of speech issues, we do not get involved in individual debates or disputes between authors. Instead, we offer individual, confidential advice and support to all our members.

Our approach to debates and disputes between authors

As an organisation, we celebrate freedom of expression. We actively work with English Pen and other organisations to protect this freedom in law and in practice.

We are a professional community representing more than 12,000 authors of all types and from all backgrounds. Our members have a multiplicity of views and they are free to exercise them however uncomfortable we might sometimes find it.

In all of our activities we work towards greater inclusion, diversity and representation across publishing and we welcome all authors as members, whatever their opinions.

We understand that authors will disagree from time to time but we hope that views are debated with dignity and respect.

SoA staff are your professional representatives, advisors and spokespeople. As an organisation, our expertise lies in the small print: vetting contracts, lobbying government, giving grants and prizes.

During the pandemic, we raised and paid out over £2 million to authors in need and we continue to lobby on financial support, a better copyright regime and issues post Brexit. In 2022 we published a report warning authors about vanity publishers. We work tirelessly for individual authors.

While we do not comment on what members should or should not write, draw, perform or translate, we do ask authors, and the wider creative community, to be mindful of the impact of what they create, do and say.

We ask our members to be mindful of the following:

We do not intervene in disputes of opinion between authors, but we will always endeavour to give an unbiased view of any professional business matter.

Our approach

  1. We condemn any kind of racist, hate or unprofessional speech.
  2. We ask for a professional level of behaviour, outlined in our Dignity and Respect policy and in the cross-industry Commitment to Professional Behaviour in Publishing and we encourage you to make a complaint under the SoA's policy if you are concerned about another member’s behaviour. Be aware that for behaviour outside the SoA, our role is that of mediator or trusted intermediary.
  3. We do not get involved in individual debates or disputes between authors.
  4. While we deplore bullying, trolling and personal remarks, we do not usually speak out publicly on individual cases of trolling, especially if we have not been asked by the author to do so, and particularly on social media which is not a sufficiently nuanced forum for such debates.
  5. We will always provide private support for authors targeted. See our guidance: what to do if you are a subject of online abuse, harassment or bullying.
  6. We lobby against morality clauses in both private and public. We are alarmed at the proliferation of these clauses in publishing contracts, and we ask all authors to speak up against them. 
  7.  If, as a member, you ask us, we will offer individual advice and support on any issue and may intervene with publishers on freedom of speech issues where appropriate.

Please get in touch if you need individual, confidential advice and support.

In principle…

With the Booksellers Association, the Publishers Association and the Association of Authors’ Agents, we co-authored and endorsed the Commitment to Professional Behaviour in Bookselling and Publishing (PDF download).

Its key principles are:      

  1. We in the books industry support creative expression and the freedom of speech. However, our creative realm is also a professional one and we expect high standards of behaviour from everyone we encounter in the course of our work, including colleagues and customers.
  2. We will protect the passion, imagination and creativity of everyone in the books industry. We will celebrate and promote diversity and inclusion so that all voices can be heard.
  3. We will recognise our influence and make a commitment to work together to prevent abuse of power, creating a work environment free of discrimination, sexual and other harassment, bullying and intimidation.
  4. We will ensure that everyone in our industry is treated with dignity and respect so that individuals are supported and able to speak out.

We endorse the BFI Principles and its supporting guidance notes, with its practical help and support on bullying, harassment and racism.

In practice…

We have clarified our guidance for members, employees and all third parties who work with the Society of Authors (PDF download) which together with our Equality Policy (PDF download) and the principles outlined here govern our relationships and practices.

In interactions with the SoA, at SoA events or on SoA business, the SoA will consider and investigate all complaints and take whatever action is necessary and appropriate to prevent a recurrence. Sanctions may range from warning the party involved that the particular behaviour is inappropriate and must cease, through immediate removal from the premises to removing membership, should it appear that any member’s continuance would prejudicially affect the SoA.

Disputes between Authors

The Society of Authors cannot and does not intervene in disputes between authors. We support the rights of our members to hold and to state views on a wide range of issues. While we hope our members will treat others with dignity and respect, it is not our place to enforce this.

If you experience online abuse, harassment and bullying, please see our support guidance. If you experience difficulties in professional relationships, please visit our support pages or get in touch so that we can signpost to the most appropriate service.

What we can help with

Example: My contract is cancelled by a publisher, can the SoA advise me?

Yes, please get in touch.

What we can’t help with

Example: A fellow author has made unpleasant statements about me online. I feel these amount to bullying/defamation. Can the SoA advise me?

No, this would need to be dealt with by the police or through legal action. See our support guidance for signposting advice.

Society of Authors as trusted intermediary

If a Society of Authors’ member contacts us with a complaint about bullying, harassment or other inappropriate behaviour outside the SoA’s control or environment, but within our associated industries, we will offer individual and confidential advice to support them through this process and, if necessary, act as a trusted intermediary on their behalf.

If a member wishes to remain anonymous, we may help to bring a complaint to the attention of the employing organisation, especially where we are made aware of multiple complaints about the same individual.

Advice and support

Where we cannot assist in this capacity, we will refer members to the free confidential helpline run by ACAS, either via its Helpline Online Service or by phone: 0300 123 1100, available Monday to Friday 8am-6pm.

We keep all of our policies and guidance under review to ensure that they are fit for purpose in tackling bullying, harassment and racism over time.

We welcome suggestions from employees, members and partners for changes we might make to improve our approach.

Society of Authors employees

If you have a complaint about the behaviour of any of the SoA staff or volunteers, please follow our complaints procedure.

As an employer, we have strengthened and clarified our internal guidelines and policies for employees to ensure the Society of Authors is a respectful, considerate and professional environment for staff, members and visitors alike.

We nurture a culture where all employees, regardless of role, are empowered to challenge and report bullying, harassment, racism or other inappropriate behaviour if they witness it.

In partnership…

Our commitment alone is not enough to change attitudes and the culture. Our actions are part of a wider movement working across the creative industries and beyond. Only by working in partnership with others will the principles we have adhered to result in permanent change.

We will continue to work with our partners at the Booksellers Association, the Publishers Association and the Association of Authors’ Agents, to ensure that the Commitment to Professional Behaviour in Bookselling and Publishing evolves as a relevant, active, practical statement.

We will continue to work with other partners across the creative industries, including the BFI, SCWBI, Scottish Book Trust, and others, collaborating to learn, and evolve our approach.

Further reading…

Further help and advice

Last updated: May 2023